Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The weight of meaningless connections


Isn't it weird how things are connected? Reticulated even? This past week I saw several articles about Angelina Jolie's decision to have her ovaries and Fallopian tubes surgically removed, because she carries a gene that would leave her susceptible to ovarian cancer. Her mother died of ovarian cancer when she was ... well, she was my age. In 2013 Jolie underwent a double mastectomy for the same reason: genes. Issues of privilege and fame and should she or shouldn't she clouded what must have been a devastating personal decision. Not my business, I thought, and fuck anybody who judges her. A handsome husband doesn't make up for this kind of shit.

In the meantime, my local library notified me that Maleficent had come in, so Coraline and I stopped by to pick it up Friday. I had no idea Angelina Jolie was in it, but we watched it Saturday night and OMFG was Angelina one magnificent goddess in that movie or what? What a stunning story of deception and revenge and redemption and unconditional love. What would I give for powerful, magical wings like that?

After Coraline went to bed, Netflix suggested I watch Fierce People. I have a big old girl-crush on Diane Lane, so I accepted the invitation. Donald Sutherland was in it too, and I noticed once again he had to get at least a little bit naked and show his skinny butt. It was an OK movie; I didn't regret watching it.

And then tonight, as I was sifting through the movies on my list (and avoiding the blank page that is my blog) looking for something to watch, I decided, based on the description, to watch Taking Lives, which
Taking Lives premiere
stars .... wait for it .... Angelina Jolie and Keifer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland's son. And, I found out, offers a sexy nude scene with Jolie's lovely breasts which no longer exist in real time ......

Do you see the connections? Am I crazy? Do you find these threads running through your life too? I find little meaning in these little connections. I notice them, and then I move on to the next and the next and the next. I rarely point them out to other people, because ... well, why would I? They don't mean anything, do they? They just are ... a movie connected to a book connected to a Facebook conversation connected to a movie .....  It's only crazy if you think they mean something, right? Noticing is just noticing. Nothing crazy about that. Just make note and move on ..... Tell me I'm not alone.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Goodbye, my friend

Guess what I'm doing ........ You're right! Drinking a glass of wine. Cheers.

Guess what I'm not doing ...... Eating chocolate. Or any sugar. Like I said a couple of days ago, the booze fast was just the warm-up for the big test of willpower: giving up sugar for a month.

That means no more best friend chocolate, no more brown sugar in my oatmeal, no more honey in my tea ... this is starting to sound like a 70's pop song .... and no more cookies. No sugar at all, unless it comes in the form of whole fruit.

I joke about my love of wine, but that's really just a cover for my real addiction. My love affair with chocolate is an epic consumption poem that must at last come to an end.

In preparation, over the past 4 days, I went on a chocolate binge that would put Willy Wonka out of business. I would be embarrassed to list here how much chocolate I ate, but let's just say it involved a bag of Dove coconut-filled eggs, 2 caramel Cadbury's, a Mounds bar, a Heath bar, a bag of licorice twists, an orange and a sea salt dark chocolate Lindt bar, an organic dark chocolate coconut bar, and a tiny container of Cherry Garcia. For once, I let myself eat as much as I wanted. I didn't have much left to throw away this morning. Roll me into the river, Willy.

Notice I didn't start my chocolate fast on the first day of March. I intended to, but when I told my daughter Elvira she expressed deep concern for both my mental health and my inflated sense of hedonism. She said, "Mommers, why would you do that to yourself? You're not even allowing one day in between so you can drink that first glass of wine since January with a bar of dark chocolate? Are you suicidal?"

Of course, I had to admit she made a reasonable argument, so, much like a convict on death row, I enjoyed my cold glass of Chardonnay with some high-percentage dark chocolate last night before midnight.  And then I said good-bye to the one thing that keeps me sane most days.

My son Drake, who was bitter because his sister had said something wise, admonished me and said, "Mom, you know there's sugar in wine." I stared him down and said, "Drake, I'm giving up sugar and chocolate, but I'm not going crazy and giving up all carbs. Whatever sugar is in wine has turned into wine. I will not give wine up along with chocolate, and I suspect none of you want me to do that either."

I did hop up on the low-carb bandwagon about 10 years ago. I had been a vegetarian for 9 years, but I started eating meat, cut most of the carbs out of my diet, and worked out several times a week at the gym. I lost a shit ton of weight and I felt fantastic. Strong. Sexy. Full of energy. Daring. I confess I flirted heavily with my little eating disorder for a few months, but I didn't fully succumb. It was the one time in my life I told my poor body image to go fuck itself. It was lovely.

Then the news about how healthy dark chocolate is came out, and I decided I could surely handle one Dove dark chocolate a day. I would take it like medicine. One piece a day and no more. Turns out that was like a chronic alcoholic deciding he could handle one shot of vodka a day. Not sustainable. My addiction is such that it wouldn't be satisfied with an entire bag of Dove darks a day. No hyperbole.

I've made it through one day, which I know is the easy part. Tomorrow the cravings will hit, and the irritability.

I know I'm doing the right thing though. You see, I received a sign. A big, fucking, neon-blinking sign from the universe. Last week I ran out of chocolate. I'd even eaten all of the frozen chocolate chips. And I wasn't feeling well, and the sky was dumping a bunch of snow on us or the temperatures were below zero or some shit. I didn't want to go out, and even if I did, I refuse to placate my addiction by walking half a block and across the street to Big Daddy's to buy chocolate. I have boundaries.

And then I remembered I wasn't really out of chocolate. I had some baking chocolate that was probably several years old, but there was a box of semi-sweet there. Big, thick chunks of chocolate that's supposed to be melted and remade into something else. I let one sit out for about 5 minutes to thaw, and then I took it into the living room to enjoy while I watched my secondary addiction, Netflix. About the third bite into it, I felt something crunch. And I realized I'd broken the front half off an expensive crown on one of my front teeth -- a crown that is connected to 4 other crowns and can't be replaced without replacing all of them. I don't know yet what that moldy old piece of chocolate is going to cost me, but this time, it's not worth it. 

And it's not just my tooth. I've done enough research on sugar to believe it really is an addiction for me, and it's a poison. I don't want to be held hostage to it any more. I don't want to hate myself for my weakness, and I don't want to suffer physical repercussions either.

So, I'm off sugar for a month, and then probably a month after that. I think I can do it a month at a time. I am going to give myself a free day toward the end of the month when Elvira and my daughter-in-law Montana are celebrating birthdays. And if I do decide to continue next month, I'm going to take the first day of the month off for a gorge because .... wine and chocolate. Maybe I'll throw a party.

Otherwise, no simple sugars for this girl. Zero. I can't be trusted with sugar, and especially chocolate.

What's your addiction? How do you deal with it? Or do you?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How dry I am .....

How dry I am, how dry I am 
It's plain to see just why I am
No alcohol in my highball
And that is why so dry I am
(Irving Berlin, 1919)

February 28. Finally! Is it too late to write my annual New Year's post? Nah, it's never too late for a New Year's post, complete with my resolutions and my 2015 word of the year. But this one isn't that one.

February is a bitch, isn't it? Endless sub-freezing, snowy, gray days, and the only holiday is fucking Valentine's Day. And in my family, people tend to die in February, so we're always on edge, depressed, dreading the phone call we're sure will come or the piano that will fall on our own heads. I'd have to be a fucking idiot to do a booze fast in February, wouldn't I?

OK, so I'm a fucking idiot. I did it. I didn't drink a drop of alcohol the entire month of February. I didn't even stick my nose into a glass of wine and take a whiff. I was the prohibition poster child.

Why would I give up the soothing, warming effects of alcohol during the longest, coldest month of the year? Good question. It's not because I believe in the efficacy of detoxing or fasting. I don't. I have organs that take care of that shit so I don't have to. (No pun intended .... well, maybe.)

And I'm not an alcoholic. In fact, I didn't drink a drop for over 20 years of my adult life. I was a hard drinker in high school, and for a few years after when I was tending bar. But I didn't quit because I had a drinking problem. I quit I was afraid my ex was developing one, and I wasn't going to be married to an alcoholic. I grew up with that, and so did he. I figured if I didn't drink, he wouldn't drink as much. I know now that was faulty logic, but it seemed to work. I didn't start drinking again until one night at a party I realized my marriage, which had been bouncing around on the rocks (no pun intended) was now zipping out to sea on a riptide,  too far out for me to save it.

So I began to enjoy drinking again, and I have no regrets for either my dry years or my lovely wine-enhanced years since my divorce.

The reason I decided to take a month off from the hooch is because I read an article in The New Scientist about the results of a small study of the benefits of giving up alcohol for a month. The people in the study who gave up drinking for 5 weeks saw significant positive changes in liver fat, blood glucose, and cholesterol. The abstainers also claimed they slept better. The only negative -- and this is a big one in the lonely month of February -- was that the they also reported less social contact.

It seemed worth a try, so I chose the shortest month of the year (duh), and I did it. Here's my report.

0. I didn't spend any money on alcohol. And that's it. Otherwise, I noticed zero benefits from taking a month off from alcohol. Of course, nobody measured my liver fat, cholesterol, or blood glucose, so it's possible there were benefits in those areas. I can't vouch for any of that though. As far as I'm concerned, it was simply a test of willpower, which I passed.

1. I had hoped I would at least lose weight. I didn't, and before you ask, no, I didn't eat or drink more. In fact, I think I ate less, because I tend to snack on salty foods when I drink. Of all the negatives I'm going to list below, this is the one that disappointed me the most. If I'm going to be fat anyway, I might as well comfort myself with a cold glass of Chardonnay of an evening.

2. I had hoped I would gain a few IQ points, feel sharper, remember where I parked my car at the mall, perhaps. Nope. Nothing. Still as fuzzy as ever.

3. I don't have trouble sleeping normally, so I didn't really expect to sleep better. However, I found myself waking up before my alarm, which was .... well, it was alarming. I'm not a morning person. I don't need less wine and more morning. What a fresh hell that was.

4. I had no way to relax my knotted up shoulder muscles at the end of the day. Very often a sip of wine is like medicine. I feel the tensions of the day drain out of my muscles so hard it hurts, and it feels really fucking good. Thus my ability to sleep well at night. For the past 28 days, my shoulder muscles have been as tight as harp strings. Neither yoga nor deep breathing have replaced the liquid relaxer, and as a result, I haven't slept as well. Thanks, abstinence.

5. I got sick halfway through the month. For the first time since last winter, I got sick. And I've been sick for almost 2 weeks now. You might remind me that I teach in a high school where I'm subjected to quite a germy population, and you would be right. But why didn't I get sick before? They've been sneezing and coughing and blowing their noses for months now, but I remained impervious. Until this month when, for 2 weeks out of the 4, I've had a sore throat, mild cough, body aches, congestion, and to top it all off, fucking pink eye. Which means ....

6. I'm really fucking ugly I've been considerably less attractive, because I not only can't wear any mascara, a redhead's best friend, but I also have one hideous glossy pink eye. My social life has suffered. DON'T FUCKING LOOK AT ME!

7. I have a huge stack of papers to grade, and here's why. I don't drink while I'm grading. I know lots of writing teachers only get through their grading load by consuming shots of bourbon with their bottles of pale ale and bitter IP's. I'm afraid I will write honest comments that I would regret the next day if I were to drink while I grade. So instead, I pour a glass of cold Chardonnay and let it sweat and glisten on the table in front of me until I've graded every last short story and poem and entered those grades into my Excel spreadsheet of doom. Only then do I allow myself to take even the first sip of chilly, relaxing goodness. Let's just say after 28 days, I could use some fucking incentive.

(Note: If you don't know what to get your kid's teacher for Christmas, get her a fucking bottle of wine. What would you want if you had to spend all day with your kids every day?)

8. Finally, my social life. All those years I didn't drink that was just my normal. But now it seems weird not to drink at parties or at karaoke or at a bar. My friend Chicken Grrrl came over so we could rehearse a song we'd been asked to sing. As usual, we spent far less time singing than we did talking, which was lovely. But the difference this time was that she could enjoy a relaxing glass of wine while I sipped on some water. It wasn't nearly as much fun as the night we drank a quart of margaritas and .... well, that's a story for another time, isn't it?

One of the hardest things about not drinking was the many triggers, and not just at parties and in bars and on Facebook. People drink on every single TV show and in every single movie. I spent a lot of time on the couch this month feeling like shit and watching Netflix, and in every show I watched most of the adults were drinking ... a lot. And as I watched a mom drinking a glass of wine while she cooked dinner or a couple toasting each other on a date, I found myself thinking, That looks good. I'd like a glass of wine. Except that I couldn't, of course, so I'd get a glass of fizzy water or a cup of tea and make do.

It's not the same though. Fizzy water and tea aren't the same sophisticated muscle and social lubricants that wine or bourbon or even beer (for those who can tolerate it) are. Those are grownup drinks ... and grownups drink those drinks. And I'm a grownup. I don't have to curb my drinking for anybody any more. I can enjoy a glass of wine just like the people on Netflix.

All those years I didn't drink I didn't even notice the prevalence of liquor on TV and in movies. It wasn't a trigger. And by the end of this month, although I still noticed it, it wasn't as often and I didn't have the same response. In fact, watching someone pour a glass of wine didn't  produce a craving at all this last week. That might be because I've been sick, or it might be that for me a month is long enough to dull the response.

And so, the clock has rung midnight on March, and the thought crossed my mind that February 28 was over. I could go to the kitchen and pour a cold glass of Chardonnay. But the pull wasn't that strong, so I made a cup of tea instead.

Tomorrow I start a new and much more difficult detox. I will definitely need wine and willpower to get through it. More on that tomorrow though.

How about you? Did you give anything up for 2015 or for Lent? How's it going? Let's pour a glass of wine and discuss it in the comments below .....